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cross-posted from Voices on the Square

One point that constantly comes up when the push to 100% sustainable, renewable power is raised is the problem that "renewable power sources cannot be relied on to deliver power 24/7". This is a talking point pushed by the propagandists for Big Coal in particular, since the biggest challenge to their long term existence as an industry in the United States is the threat that we begin to get serious about tapping our abundant Wind Power resources on-shore in the Great Plains and Mountain West and off-shore on the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. When the wind is blowing, it substantially undermines the market for fossil-fuel "Baseload Power" (see (The Myth of Baseload Power).

After all, consider two scenarios, one in which a power source replaces half of the power from coal by replacing half the power, all of the time, and a second, in which a power source replaces all of the power, half the time. The second is a greater threat to coal-fired power, since it swings the advantage to natural-gas fired power. Natural-gas fired power is presently killing off coal-fired plant construction, and a sufficiently large and volatile supply of Windpower would make that permanent.

So of course Big Coal spreads the idea that all sustainable power is volatile and if its volatile, it can't provide all of our power.

This present essay is not about answering that argument rationally. That was the topic of The Myth of Baseload Power. This present essay is about attacking the political foundations of Big Coal.

After all, propaganda about "Clean Coal" and spreading the myth that there is this special kind of power called Baseload power that sustainable energy has impact because of the political influence of Big Coal in Coal Country. And this is a particularly pernicious influence, since it runs on a cycle of:

  • Coal production provides export base employment in an area.
  • Coal production also diverts a majority of the value-added from production out of the production area;
  • which helps assure that the Coal production areas are, on average, lower income economies than elsewhere in the country;
  • which undermines the area's capability to diversify its economy, helping to assure that the jobs in Coal production are valued jobs in the local area, which increases local political support for "supporting" Big Coal;
  • And with a less diversified economy, there are fewer resources available to contest the political power and influence of Big Coal.
  • With its political power, Big Coal ensures that the rules in place continue to ensure that a majority of value-added is drained out of the production area

This essay is about undermining that political power at its base, by creating more jobs from a direct rival to coal production than Big Coal can offer. Once a better deal is made available, with more employment, more value-added circulating locally, and no destruction of people's health through the hauling up of poisonous by-products from underground, the foundation on which Big Coal's political power is based is in a position to fracture.

What is that direct rival to coal production? Biocoal production.

What Is BioCoal?

What is BioCoal? According to Baltic Bioenergy and Industrial Biocoal,

Biocoal is a solid fuel made from biomass by heating it in an inert atmosphere. The result is either charcoal, or if the process temperature is mild, a product called torrefied wood. Charcoal and torrefied wood can be called by common name biocoal.

Compared to untreated biomass biocoal has several advantages. It has high energy content, uniform properties and low moisture content. Biocoal can be used in coal fired power plants, which have difficulties with other biomass based fuels, such as wood chips.

If biocoal raw material originates from sustainably managed forests, the product is CO2 neutral. The growing new tree generation captures the same amount of CO2 from atmosphere that is released in the manufacture and combustion of biocoal.

Note that this comes primarily from Finland and Latvia, which are presently wood product exporting countries, and the description here is a bit specialized. In particular, the biocoal technology they are looking to employ is production in an inert atmosphere. However, here in the United States, a different type of Biocoal production process has been developed in Hawaii at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute: flash carbonization:
Research at the University of Hawaii (UH) has led to the discovery of the Flash Carbonization™ process that quickly and efficiently produces biocarbon (i.e., charcoal) from biomass. This process involves the ignition of a flash fire at elevated pressure in a packed bed of biomass. Because of the elevated pressure, the fire quickly spreads through the bed, triggering the transformation of biomass to biocarbon. Fixed-carbon yields of up to 100% of the theoretical limit have been achieved in as little as 20 or 30 minutes. (By contrast, conventional charcoal-making technologies typically produce charcoal with carbon yields of much less than 80% of the theoretical limit and take from 8 hours to several days.) Feedstocks have included woods (e.g., leucaena, eucalyptus, and oak), agricultural byproducts (e.g., macadamia nutshells, corncobs, and pineapple chop), moist green wastes (e.g., wood sawdust and Christmas tree chips), various invasive species (e.g., strawberry guava), and synthetic materials (e.g., shredded automobile tires).
This process captures the gases emitted in the process, which are medium quality thermal gases containing some of the heat generated in the process as well as hydrogen, which can be burned to co-generate electricity. The overall energy efficiency of the process is a result of the combination of effective conversion of carbon to biocoal and co-generation of electricity from the exhaust gases. Just after I first reported on their work in Daily Kos (10 Jan 2007), Harris and Hill (2007) assessed flash carbonization in Carbon-Negative Primary Production: Role of Biocarbon and Challenges for Organics in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Journal of Organic Systems – Vol.2 No.2, 2007:
The flashcarbonization process, first described by Antal (2004), revolutionises charcoal production. At elevated pressures (1MPa) and temperature (400° C) the process is extremely fast, is catalysed by water, is highly exothermic [heat-creating, not heat-consuming], and the yield of fixed-carbon attains the theoretical yield at thermochemical equilibrium. The latter is achieved by holding the pyrolytic vapours captive and in contact with the solid products, where they are converted into biocarbon (Antal et al. 2000). Biomass can be converted to biocarbon in less than 30 minutes with the generation of substantial excess energy over what is required for ignition. By completely altering the economics of biocarbon production, flash-carbonization is a critical step in developing an economically viable biocarbon fuel-cell (Antal et al. 2003, Nunoura et al. 2007).
For our purposes, one of the revolutionary features of flash carbonization is that it is both a weight-losing process and a batch process.

What is the important of weight-losing processes? Weight-losing processes imply that the transportation of the product is substantially more efficient than the transportation of the feedstock. This is a factor that creates an economic advantage for locating the production closer to the feedstock source, rather than closer to the consumer of the final product. Indeed, if the biocoal is briquetted, and if production is placed in existing coal-producing areas, the biocoal can be transported using the existing dirty-coal transport system.

What is the importance of batch production? Batch production processes are easier to operate intermittently, and easier to economically "scale down" than continuous production processes. Combined with the weight-losing nature of the process, this means that if the feedstock is located in dirty-coal producing areas, both the employment from growing the feedstock and the employment from producing the biocoal may be located in dirty-coal production areas. It also means that the co-generation of power from batch production of biocoal can be timed to coincide with the periods when electricity is most valuable.

Obstacles to use of Biocoal as a Sustainable Power Source

Biofuels Digest gave an excellent summary of the obstacles to the greater use of biocoal in power generation in this country in October 2011:

The primary issue to be overcome is the cost of thermal coal vs. the expected cost of bio-coal. It is a fact that thermal coal is still a very economic fuel and it is highly probable that the premium that will have to be paid for bio-coal will more than likely be of significance for many years to come.

Another issue is the fact that bio-coal availability will be in short supply for the next several years and the price will more than likely remain high due to supply-demand imbalances.  Considering that commercial scale torrefaction processes are just now being commissioned, bio-coal plants are few and far between and the technologies being used are still evolving. Although the cost effectiveness of processing biomass into bio-coal may improve, it is expected that it will take time to add sufficient bio-coal capacity and improve efficiency.

Further, there will be limits in availability of woody biomass for use in making bio-fuels, and if the use of bio-coal increases dramatically, it could affect the cost of acquiring woody biomass as a bio-coal feedstock. There are only a limited number of locations in which timber harvesting takes place in the US and those that use forest products for competing uses, such as paper and lumber used in construction and manufactured wood products, are expected to keep woody biomass prices high.

However, note that these problems are primarily under the premise of no effective government action to promote the use of biocoal. First, the low cost of coal is a financial comparison, not an economic comparison, since, as the Renewable Resource Resource Laboratory in Hawaii notes:
Note 1: because of its high content of mercury, sulfur, and other noxious elements and compounds, the price of coal is not comparable to the other (relatively clean) fuels listed. To be comparable, the price of coal should include the necessary cleanup of these noxious materials (especially mercury) at the outlet of the powerplant. Unfortunately, reliable data on the cleanup costs are not easily available. Also, a carbon tax will impact the price of coal more than other fuels.
Full-cost pricing of coal will inevitably narrow or eliminate any price differentials with biocoal, since plant feedstocks do not result in high mercury content carbon. Also, while dirty-coal is among the highest carbon emission fossil fuel, the use of plant feedstocks grown in a sustainable way results in low-carbon, carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative fuel (confer with Harris and Hill (2007 [pdf]) on carbon negative power when accounting for use of bio-char as fertilizer and carbon sequestration by root systems of perennial plants).

The second problem is clearly resolved if there is a government program to ensure sufficient feedstock supply to correspond with government regulations of carbon emissions of coal plants that make it preferable to use the biocoal that is available.

And the third problem assumes the most dramatically that there is no effective government policy to promote biocoal. Our existing biomass production is not aimed at producing biomass, it is aimed at producing something else. We cut down whole trees in our timber industry because the point of the process is to produce wood and paper pulp. If our aim is to produce biomass, we would do the same as Henry VIII (of the many wives and two surviving daughters, father of Elizabeth I, the first sovereign queen of England), when looking to guarantee sufficient charcoal for England's ironmaking industry. We would produce coppice (Wikipedia machine).

As I wrote the last time I reported on Biocoal:

What is coppice? Coppice is harvesting a tree for perennial production by cutting it down near to the roots, allowing the base and root system to remain in place so that new shoots can emerge in the following year. Coppice is harvested in a rotation, on a cycle that varies from one type of tree to the next.

And, of course, if we harvest coppice from hill or mountain along the contours of the terrain, the retention of the tree roots systems combines with the natural terracing effect of contour farming to retain both soil and rainfall runoff far better than clearfell timbering.

Henry the VIII introduced regulations that required a certain number of large trees, "standards", to grow in the midst of the coppice woodlot. This was, of course, a "strategic defense" reserve, at the time, since the Royal Navy needed timber to make their Wooden Ships.

Today, the most pressing strategic issue we face is avoiding the destruction of the ecosystem services that we rely upon for our survival. And so we probably should steal a trick from the House of Tudor, and incorporate a similar system in a contour-coppicing system. This would involve rewarding producers for allocating, say, 10% of land to ridgeline and mountaintop forest reserves, and 10% of contours to production of larger timbers.

 
Side-Note: A Particularly American Coppice-System

If you are following the main argument, you can skip this part, but I did not want to leave this out entirely.

One particularly appealing coppice tree crop is hybrid Asian-American chestnut. At one time as many as one in four trees in Appalachia were Sweet Chestnut trees, which yielded a strong, naturally pest-resistant timber, tannin for leather production, and sweet chestnuts for sale to roasters and to pig farmers. A fungus imported from Asia over a century ago devastated the eastern Sweet Chestnut forests. Hybrid breeding with fungus-resistant Asian chestnuts produced blight resistant trees ... but there was a catch:

Unfortunately, Chinese and Japanese chestnuts tend to be shorter. As scientists for the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) discovered when they started breeding hybrids in the 1930s, many more genes than the few that govern resistance also cross over. Initially the hybrids grew like gangbusters and appeared to resist the blight. But when they stopped growing after a few decades, the USDA scientists realized they had a problem. The trees were only 50 to 60 feet tall.

Hopes for the tree seemed stymied by a Catch-22: Blight-resistant trees require Asian genes, yet Asian genes produce a tree with neither the height nor the hardiness to survive the fierce forest competition for sunlight. In 1960 the USDA shut down its chestnut-breeding program and the tree seemed consigned to oblivion.

But it should be obvious that as a coppice tree, the fact that the tree stops growing in twenty years is entirely beside the point, because if you have not coppiced it yet, you coppice it then. This is, indeed, another example of how our agricultural knowledge is focused upon the end products we are trying to produce: a tree that is a failure as a timber tree in sustainable mixed woodland timber production is not necessarily a failure as a biomass production tree.

Indeed, the key element in selection of the hybrid for coppice is not the height of the tree after fifty years, but rather the quality of the chestnut produced. What made the Sweet Chestnut such an enduring part of 19th century Appalachian rural incomes was the annual income from the collection and sale of the chestnuts. Indeed, it was said that you could produce as much pork on an acre of Sweet Chestnut as on an acre of corn ... and the acre of Sweet Chestnut did not have to be flat.

The same income flow would make the hybrid Asian/Sweet Chesnut a valuable coppice feedstock, provided hybrid strains can be developed that produce nuts that closely resemble the original Sweet Chestnut in quality as both food, after roasting, and as animal feed.

OK, now back to the main argument.

A Policy Package to Cut Big Coal Off At The Knees

Remember, the main aim here is to establish a sustainable, renewable energy source that can grow to have the political clout to take down Big Coal. So getting it going requires first a political break-through in coal-producing state such as Ohio or Pennsylvania, and then rapidly moving in a "first 100 days" way to setting the ball rolling. Once the program is in place, the first aim is to create immediate beneficiaries in locales where Big Coal typically turns to when making an appeal that "they are stealing your jobs (and, silently, more to the point that large part of our profits that come from shifting costs onto the public).

So the first stage is a carbon tax on fixed point electricity sources that directly funds the establishment of sustainable bio-coal production in the state, and the establishment of a support price for the production of coppice feedstock and targeted agricultural extension for the developing of coppiced feedstock production "in those counties determined to offer the strongest income gains to owners of agricultural land and strongest benefits in reducing soil erosion and improving surface water quality".

There's no need to explicitly target Appalachian counties in order to target Appalachian counties, since the strongest gains to local agricultural incomes will be in the Appalachian countries, the strongest benefits to reducing soil erosion will be from contour-coppicing of hilly terrain, and the greatest improvement in surface water quality will come from contour-coppicing hilly terrain.

Unlike timber production, contour-coppicing supports a relatively stable annual output from a given hillside. If the coppice interval is 12-20 years (such as Sweet Chesnut coppice in the UK today), you harvest one in 12 to one in 20 contour rows per years.

Note that in production of contour-coppice for biocoal feedstock, you do not have to wait until the first coppiced wood is harvested to sell biocoal feedstock, since the clearing of hillside contours for coppiced wood production itself produces bio-coal feedstock. If the land is heavily degraded, this might be brush and scrub rather than valuable timber, but brush and scrub are still useful as biocoal feedstocks.

If the land is heavily degraded, some of the biocoal output should be replaced in the hillside as bio-char to promote establishment of healthy root systems by the new coppice wood crop being plants, and this provides an essential part of the income-support program. The price support program involves a guaranteed offer to buy biocoal at a given price in order to sequester the carbon by using it as biochar in an approved in-state agricultural use.

Now, anywhere in Coal Country where bio-coal batch production equipment is located, anyone owning marginal land that wishes to take advantage of the new market for biocoal feedstock can have their coppiced wood production plans approved by the state agricultural extension office, and then they are selling biocoal feedstock as they clear their marginal land for production of coppiced wood, in order for the biocoal to either be bought at a state-guaranteed, coal-power-plant subsidized price to be produced into biochar that they can use to inexpensively improve the quality of their land, or else bought at a higher price by the coal power plants themselves to be used as low-net-carbon biocoal.

You will notice that I have not said a word about what carbon tax rate to place on fixed point electricity generators. The answer is, "enough to get the program up and running". We have seen in Iowa what happens when a dirty bio-fuel, corn-starch ethanol, becomes important enough to be an appreciable source of farmer's incomes. Now consider what will happen to the politics of the issue when you channel carbon tax incomes from coal-fired electricity (and, to a lesser extent, natural-gas-fired electricity) into production of biomass on marginal hilly lands in rural Applachian counties.

And this is a fossil fuel producer divide-and-conquer policy. Sure this taxes production of electricity from natural gas. But production of electricity from natural gas uses substantially less carbon per Kilowatt, on a fuel-content basis. So it actually provides a short to medium term benefit to Natural Gas producers, since over the short to medium term, Coal is their primary rival, and they actually benefit from pushing volatile sustainable, renewable energy production up into the 20%-40% range of total energy supply, since their share of fossil fuel produced power is likely to increase more rapidly than the total share of fossil fuel produced power declines.

Why Ohio or Pennsylvania, rather than Kentucky or West Virginia

My notional target for this policy has been either Ohio or Pennsylvania after some Democratic breakthrough in one of these states. Why Ohio or Pennsylvania, rather than Kentucky or West Virginia? (Image: Athens, Ohio, in the heart of Southeastern Ohio Appalachian counties)

Bear in mind that in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the political clout of rural Appalachian counties comes from entering into fights between Democratic, largely big city urban and inner suburban interests and Republican outer-suburban and small urban area interests, and tilting the balance. This is normally to the benefit of suburban Republican interests, but it is on occasion in the service of Democratic interests, especially when it involves populist economic issues.

Now consider the impact of the influence of Big Coal in a number of these rural Appalachian counties is neutralized, or even reversed. Republican big-city outer suburban and smaller urban area interests are faced with a choice between allowing alliance between large city urban and inner suburban interests and the interests of rural Appalachian counties, or between flipping on mineral coal versus biocoal and making biocoal into a bipartisan consensus, so they can hope to continue to divert the rural Appalachian counties from their economic interests with the shiny bauble of social issue controversy.

Further, while rural Appalachian counties are one substantial target for biocoal feedstock, flash carbonization is a quite flexible process and can use quite a range of feedstocks. You can produce biocoal from corn stover, from perennial grasses such as switchgrass, and from a wide range of waste products, including discarded tires and sewage. Different degrees of moisture content will generate a different mix of biocoal and co-generated electricity from the flammable exhaust gas, so would likely involve batch producers specialized to particular types of inputs, but the basic process is far from finicky about its choice of feedstock.

Therefore, while the agricultural extension would be focused on marginal hilly land, especially already degraded hilly land, the funds subsidizing establishment of production of biocoal can be distributed across the state. In addition to generating rural Appalachian agricultural incomes, it can help reduce costs of waste disposal for large urban areas. So in states like Ohio or Pennsylvania, those interests that emerge in favor of biocoal production can find allies across the state.

The ultimate goal is, however, for the biocoal production to become so popular in these Appalachian "border states" that it swings the Federal balance of political power in this issue, and leads to Federal programs that brings this production into the Appalachian heartland.

This Policy Approach as part of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Policy Package

Over the past two weeks (part 1, and part 2), I have discussed the concept of "front-runner" policies in a Pedal to the Metal Climate Policy package.

The policy as described above seems more incrementalist. (1) Get one state to adopt a policy that gets the ball rolling. (2) Allow the political support for the policy to grow. (3) Take advantage of the success of the policy to take it nationwide.

I haven't abandoned consideration of Pedal to the Metal Climate Policies ... far from it. However, the role of biocoal in a 100% sustainable, renewable power production system is intrinsically not a front-runner role. The US can get to 40% sustainable electrical power with 20% Wind, 10% solar, 6% hydropower and 4% assorted other sustainable power with our existing dispatchable hydropower resource and with some modest investment in long distance power transmission for both stranded renewable power (more resource than power consumption in the region) and cross-haul renewable power (from region A to B when region A is producing strongly, from B to A when B is producing strongly).

However, as is clear from a closer examination of the Australian case considered in The Myth of Baseload Power, dispatchable renewable power becomes more critical as a nation approaches a 100% sustainable, renewable electricity supply. In the Australian case, it is the substantial Outback solar resource which can be cost-effectively exploited with Concentrated Solar Thermal (CSP) power that bridges an important part of that gap, since rather than  building a generating plant with the capacity for the total heat produced at the solar peak, CSP power collects heat into a heat storage medium and then generates power by drawing heat out of that storage medium. The extra cost of that middle stop is more than repaid by the much better economic efficiency is using a higher average capacity of the generating plant, which can deliver power when it is most economically valuable over the following half day.

Given Australia's CSP resource relative to its population, cross-haul between Australian States plus the available hydropower resource is quite enough to bridge the gap between demand and supply for the volatile Wind and Photo-Voltaic Solar power supplies, even with a 100% sustainable, renewable power supply.

The US high quality CSP resource is nowhere near as abundant relative to our population, which is around 15x Australia's population. Therefore a similar system tailored to US conditions will require either substantially more storage, or substantially more new dispatchable power sources.

With my suspicion of promised Silver Bullet solutions, I believe that biocoal can play an important role in bridging this gap, but the strongest benefit may be in biocoal power generation in combination with power storage facilities.

That is, the cost of power storage depends critically on how long you have to store the power. Power storage for a day's power gap is substantially cheaper than power storage for a week's power gap, which is substantially cheaper than power storage for seasonal power gaps, such as the Luddington Pumped Storage Power Plant.

Since conventional hydropower represents a fixed annual budget of renewable power, it should be reserved for meeting the seasonal power gaps that are hardest to meet with stored power. On the flip side, the first power gaps to address with stored power are power gaps on the scale of a day's supply.

And if our system is equipped with dispatchable stored power on the scale of a day's supply, biocoal can play an invaluable role, since power production from biocoal can be started up based on an expectation of a gap. There is always some uncertainty as to the timing and size of the gap, but it can be started up to be delivering power before the gap arrives, and rather than wasting power with spinning reserve while waiting for the gap to show up, the excess power can be fed into the day-scale power storage. As the system hits peak power demand, the biocoal power production would narrow the gap with the balance coming from the day-scale power storage. And then as the peak power demand passes, the biocoal would continue to produce power to replenish the power in day-scale power storage.

This day-scale power storage is a grid resource, not a resource dedicated to the biocoal power producer, so it would also be available to use to feed excess Wind Power supply at night into peak demands the following day and excess hydropower production from run-of-river hydropower or excess cogenerated power from industrial processes during third shift production.

Indeed, current pumped hydropower technology offers this day-scale storage production. We do not presently have it in substantial amounts because with a primarily fossil-fuel fired power system, we don't need very much of it.  But if it becomes a strategic resource, we only need to establish effective pricing mechanisms to reward investment in the infrastructure, and we can have substantial supplies.

Indeed, for free-standing pumped hydro, with a reservoir on top and bottom, the two factors that determine the power that can be stored is the size of the reservoirs and the rise between the bottom-end reservoir and the top-end reservoir. So given the kind of transcontinental Electricity Superhighways that are part of the Steel Interstate system describe in the Sunday Train two weeks ago, this form of day-scale energy storage offers yet another sustainable energy opportunity for Appalachia.

Conversations, Considerations and Contemplations

As you can tell, I really do think biocoal is not just a politically strategic renewable energy resource, but also a strategic part of getting from 50% to 100% sustainable renewable power. However, the time has come to find out what you think.

So now, as always, rather looking for some overarching conclusion, I now open the floor to the comments of those reading.

If you have an issue on some other area of sustainable transport or sustainable energy production, please feel free to start a new main comment. To avoid confusing me, given my tendency to filter comments through the topic of this week's Sunday Train, feel free to use the shorthand "NT:" in the subject line when introducing this kind of new topic.

And if you have a topic in sustainable transport or energy that you want me to take a look at in the coming month, be sure to include that as well.

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, DK GreenRoots, Climate Change SOS, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  What's the per-acre potential? (5+ / 0-)

      For example, land to run a 1000 megawatt power plant (or plants) on biocoal 50% of the hours in a year?

      •  Why would we need to run ... (17+ / 0-)

        ... a plant on biocoal for 50% of the hours of the year? A firming power supply is drawn on for something much more like 5% of the hours of the year ~ even a 1:4 stored output to thermal or Direct Carbon Fuel Cell power source ratio would be the biocoal running 20% of the hours of the year. A 1:2 ratio would be 10% of the hours of the year.

        This conference paper from 2001 cites biomass yields for Sycamore Coppice on a 3 year coppice cycle as 7.5-15 oven dry tons per hectare per year, so 3-6 ODT per acre ~ call it 4 ODT.

        engineer poet performed his analysis on the basis of 0.72b tons of waste biomass and 1b tons of biomass production, and arrived at:

        There are several uses for fuel gas, but one of the best is making electricity.  Hot combustible gas is more or less what an SOFC runs on.  GE and Delphi have been developing small SOFC's for automotive applications, and both recently beat the $300/kW price barrier.  Efficiency is 49% and headed upward.  If we assume that:
        • 1.72 billion tons per year of biomass is carbonized.
        • This biomass has 15.8 million BTU/dry ton of energy (27.1 quads total energy).
        • 53.5% of the energy is yielded as charcoal (30% by weight).
        • 88% of the remainder is yielded as chemical energy in hot gas (11.1 quads gas + 1.51 quads reaction heat + recycled heat).
        • The gas can be converted to electricity at 50% efficiency.

        The electric yield from the processing of the gas would be 5.55 quads, or 1620 billion kilowatt-hours.  This is more than twice the US electric generation from natural gas (~750 billion kWh), and more than 1/2 of the total US electric generation from all fossil fuels.  In short, all non-renewable natural gas generation could be replaced by energy from the carbonization stage, and a large chunk of the coal-fired generation as well.

        ... which is without taking the biocoal into account.
        An annual supply of 515 million short tons of charcoal fed to DCFC's would produce roughly 3400 billion kilowatt-hours of energy.  This is more than the total US generation from fossil fuels, and about 84% of the total electric energy consumed in the USA in 2005; together with the generation from the gas, it could conceivably replace every kilowatt-hour we now use, from the trivial amounts made by solar to the entire contribution of coal, with about 25% extra to play with.
        Now, if under a Pedal to the Metal approach, we retire the least efficient, most polluting Coal Power Plants and only retain the most efficient in use, then as they go out of service life, Direct Carbon Fuel Cells would be the technology for new investment. But the thermal coal power plants would be more like 35% efficiency, for 1,500 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, so the total from 1.72b tons of biomass would be closer to 3,100 billion kilowatt hours.

        So that gives a ratio of 1,800 Kilowatt Hours per ton of biomass, or 7,200 Kilowatt hours per acre for Sycamore coppice.

        1000 Megawatts over 1,752 hours (20% load) is therefore about 250,000 acres of output of Sycamore coppice (unless there is a mistake in my math ~ its more dangerous to do this in a comment than in a diary where arithmetic mistakes can be fixed ^_^). To bracket that for comparison, we have about 80m acres under cultivation in corn in the United States.

        Note that other biomass feedstocks could have yields of up to 10tons/acre, but the most productive biomass fields also tend to be the most productive food crop fields.

        The use of biomass in the role described in the diary is much less aggressive than engineer-poet's analysis, which is more along the lines of "how far could biomass go". Given that Wind and Solar power are more economical, but are "use it or lose it" power sources rather than scheduled power sources, my approach is rather how much do we need, rather than what is the maximum we might conceivably produce.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:08:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Could put out very considerable amount of energy (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Her Masters Voice, KenBee

          250,000 acres of land not used for other agriculture could be found in several areas of the Northeast or Appalachia.

          Issue with biomass (or coal) plants with low operating hours is that conveyors, ash handling, transport infrastructure, etc. will require fairly high operating hours to keep going financially, even if long-ago paid for.  

          Not even considering increased damage due to cycling, it's hard to imagine a structure that would permit a coal (or biocoal) plant to sustain operations over time at less than 25% of the hours in a year.

          Natural gas, or a liquid/gas fuel produced from surplus wind/solar, consumed in a combustion turbine would handle these peak needs better. Thermal storage for air conditioning and heating could help meet such needs and is greatly under-used.

          •  Is that the real operating costs ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... or the real operating costs plus the service on the debt?

            The EPA cost estimates for a Dual Unit Advanced PC are $31.18 fixed O&M cost/KW capacity/year, $4.47/MWh.

            On a 90% average cycle, that is 7.884MWh per KW capacity, which is $3.94/MWh fixed O&M, so a total debt free cost of $8.31/MWh for "baseload" power.

            On a 20% average cycle, that is 1.752MWh per KW capacity, which is $17.80/MWh, so a total debt free cost of $22.27 for "peak/store-for-peak" power.

            This last July, in most hubs wholesale prices for electricity ranged from $32-$100/MWh.

            The EIA figures for Dual Unit Advanced PC with Carbon Capture and Sequestration is $66.43/kw-year for annual fixed O&M and $9.51/MWh Variable O&M, which on a 90% cycle is $8.43/MWh or a debt-free cost of $17.94/MWh for lower value "baseload" power.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:48:51 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Balancing the grid to meet needs is the key. (13+ / 0-)

    No reason the key can't be green.   ;-)   Thanks for  informative ST diary series.

    Living the austerity dream.

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:07:18 PM PDT

    •  Yes, that is the key ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... we can just use existing fossil fuel capacity as back-up power up through 50% sustainable/renewable power, and cut CO2 emissions by over 50% if the renewable power undermines the economics of coal-fired electricity, but to get to 100% sustainable/renewable, we need green dispatchable power on a similar scale to the 100% Australian case with solar CSP and their existing hydropower capacity.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:22:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It will take a transition, and I honestly believe (5+ / 0-)

        we can be smart about this.  We must, because so much truly depends on it.

        Living the austerity dream.

        by jwinIL14 on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:34:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Kudzu! We could finally have a use for kudzu! Or (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        6412093, BruceMcF

        at least a way to reduce the cost of control and eradication.

        Great diary, very thorough, thank you. Tipped, rec'd & hotlisted.

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
        ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

        by FarWestGirl on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:51:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, we can collect kudzu for biomass ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FarWestGirl

          ... of course the key point would be to collect it it with a eye to replacing it with an explicitly selected biomass crop, since it aint gonna sit well with people to set out to grow kudzu.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:13:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Pay those coal miners the same or more (0+ / 0-)

          to quit the mines and go harvest Kudzu and other junk plants and very fast growing weak junk trees like a tree here in SW Mo. I don't know the name but it grows fast and seems to love growing beside the fences and house foundations and in just like 4-5 years it's like 15-20 feet tall(again) and 5-6 inches wide and long branches and very hard to kill by cutting it down as close to the ground as possible and I'm thinking other kinds of trees are the same elsewhere and then there is Mimosa around here but I'm guessing it's in Coal Country too it's got pretty blooms but can it take over a place and then there is plants like Trumpet Vines and well there are lots of things that can take over if left alone but by harvesting them for wages and benefits that is equal to or greater than being in a Coal Mine many problems are solved at the same time.  

  •  I've Done This for a Few Other Diaries (11+ / 0-)

    Below is a graphic representation of your diary in Tagxedo.  I explained how it is done in a fairly recent comment, Bruce.

    At a minimum, your excellent diary should be on "Community Spotlight."  

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue - A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

    by JekyllnHyde on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:25:05 PM PDT

  •  LOTS to Digest Here. Most Simple Minded Issue (7+ / 0-)

    that strikes me is, is there any sign the charcoal industry is looking at this flash carbonization technique? 30 minutes vs 8 hours would seem to imply a serious cost and greenhouse gas savings for them.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:28:42 PM PDT

    •  It would seem like that over the long haul ... (6+ / 0-)

      ... though of course their existing charcoal kilns are a sunk cost for them, so it would still require an expanding market to be making the comparison on a new-investment basis.

      Under the current charcoal business model, the cost of feedstock is reduced by relying on sources like mill slabs and edgings, and by co-producing charcoal with wood distillery products. This is a business model that breaks down at the level of production under the policy advocated in this diary.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 06:42:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmmm. Shades of the American steel industry and (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, BruceMcF, FarWestGirl

        the big whack in the head it got from Japanaese steel.

        Japanese steel technology was mostly built or rebuilt after WWII, based on something called the Basic Oxygen Process.

        American Steel Makers, having been around a while and not having been bombed to bits, retained their old basic hearth operations for much too long as Japanese makers began eating their lunch.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:18:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The cultural difference (15+ / 0-)

    You mentioned Finland and Latvia as wood fuel exporting countries. Europe has a forestry culture, with some forests having been managed for centuries. Coppicing is an ancient technique for repeat fuel harvest from the same trees.

    The US has an extractive culture, clearcuting forests for wood or just to waste them and plant crops, mining coal and pumping oil for fuel.

    Would you rather work in a forest or a mine producing fuel? They're both hard work, but only one is likely to result in black lung and a short life.

    Great diary, by the way.

    This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

    by Karl Rover on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 07:03:44 PM PDT

  •  For purposes of energy transfer in the atmosphere (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    caul, Roadbed Guy, FarWestGirl, 6412093

    carbon dioxide produced by combustion of biofuels is just as bad as carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.

    The phenomena of radiative forcing depends on the total greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.   It does not depend on the the nature of the emission source of that greenhouse gas  Of that total greenhouse gas atmospheric gas concentration, 100% of it participates in radiative forcing, including that part of the CO2 generated by wood or biomass combustion.

    There isn't any difference between burning your biomass-based fuel and CO2 emissions from burning the tropical rain forest.

    There isn't any "good" CO2 and "bad" CO2 by virtue of a distinction between tha nature of carbon combustion sources.

    •  The carbon dioxide released by ... (10+ / 0-)

      ... the combustion of carbon fuels was removed from the atmosphere, in the case of Sycamore coppice, over the previous three years.

      That's carbon neutral.

      It was not removed from the atmosphere millions of years ago, as with mineral coal.

      Now, under a Pedal to the Metal policy, there may be some carbon emissions in the harvesting process, but obviously that is a much smaller gross carbon emission than mineral coal. And there may be some carbon emissions in the transport process until we shift our transport system to carbon neutrality, but even with all petroleum-diesel powered rail transport today, transport is a small fraction of the total life cycle CO2 emissions of coal-fired power.

      And of course, as explained clearly in the New Zealand paper linked to in the diary, the biomass production from coppice may indeed be carbon negative, if the carbon sequestered in the soil from root growth and soil microorganisms is greater than the CO2 emissions during the harvesting and transport.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:25:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your "carbon neutral" discussion and attribution (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        caul, murrayewv, Roadbed Guy, FarWestGirl

        you are attempting to give to a biomass combustion process that generates greenhouse gas emissions does not have any meaning for, and is totally irrelevant for most any basis you want to consider it for...for purposes of global warming mitigation through CO2 emissions control and regulation.

        After July, 2014 EPA will be considering all carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biomass to be regulated for purposes of emission source characterization.   See 40 CFR Sec 52.21(b)(49)(ii)(a)   at

        http://www.gpo.gov/...

        [PDF page 13, second column}

        •  So in your mind .... (7+ / 0-)

          ... it is better to dump 5 tons of carbon into the atmosphere from a fossil fuel than to remove 7 tons of carbon in growing a biomass feedstock and then put 5 of those tons of carbon back into the atmosphere.

          That may be so in your mind, but in terms of total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the second option is 7 fewer tons of carbon in the atmosphere. So the physical reality respects the different, even if you do not grasp it.

          Carbon neutrality is a quite straightforward concept, I am puzzled how you could fail to grasp it.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:52:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  First, your model of carbon flow is suspect (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            caul, 6412093

            because large trees have the bulk of their biomass above ground and not below ground.   As a result saying that you're going to get 7 tons of carbon sequestration from roots in the soil when you're burning off 5 tons of top growth is counter-intuitive.

            Next, any evaluation of your bio-fuel system has to address the emissions associated with such fuel preparation....which are both greenhouse gas emissions, toxicants, hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds.

            Since our global warming problem from the standpoint of atmospheric temperatures and radiative forcing is an artifact only of the total carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere [intergrated along with other non-CO2 greenhouse gas species present), any other consideration or policy inquiry that attempts to consider that CO2 emissions from biomass combustion is somehow to be considered benign or harmless....isn't a valid exercise in greenhouse gas air pollution control and management.....certainly U.S. EPA would not agree that biomass CO2 emissions can somehow be discussed.   EPA certainly does not think that biomass-related methane emissions can discussed.

            The radiative forcing/atmospheric heating process as a matter of infrared adsorption isn't affected at all by expressions of human intentions in carrying out biomass combustion operations.   The physical processes of the atmosphere as they operate only address gas concentrations and not distinctions in the method of carbon oxidation or method of GHG emission and release.

            •  Setting aside your dancing around the issue, ... (8+ / 0-)

              ... this is the statement where you are misrepresenting the argument:

              Since our global warming problem from the standpoint of atmospheric temperatures and radiative forcing is an artifact only of the total carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere [intergrated along with other non-CO2 greenhouse gas species present), any other consideration or policy inquiry that attempts to consider that CO2 emissions from biomass combustion is somehow to be considered benign or harmless....isn't a valid exercise in greenhouse gas air pollution control.
              Its the fact that its the total carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

              That is what you are trying to distract attention away from with your dancing around the issue: the total carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

              Now, let us work it through:

              Stage 1: Mineral coal is mined. Carbon removed from the atmosphere: X1=0

              Stage 1: Biocoal feedstock is grown. Carbon removed from the atmosphere: Y1>0.

              Stage 2: Mineral coal is burned. Carbon added to the atmosphere: X2>0

              Stage 2: Biocoal is burned. Carbon added to the atmosphere: Y2>0.

              Now, lets take X2=Y2.

              (X2-X1) = X2 > (Y2-Y1)

              Now, I gather that you have engaged in this discussion previously and have made an emotional investment in not understanding this point, so I don't expect you to understand this point ...

              ... , but whether biocoal is carbon positive, carbon neutral, or carbon negative, the fact remains that all of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by burning the biocoal is recycled from carbon removed from the atmosphere when growing the feedstock.

              The question whether (Y2-Y1) is positive, zero, or negative is entirely decided by the CO2 emitted while producing and transporting the biocoal is more or less than the carbon sequestered by use of biochar as a fertilizer and in roots and microorganisms by the growth coppiced. Indeed, estimating the CO2 emissions during production and transport would allow an appropriate amount of biocoal produced to be set aside as biochar to ensure carbon neutrality.

              But in the end:

              The physical processes of the atmosphere as they operate only address gas concentrations and not distinctions in the method of carbon oxidation or method of GHG emission and release.
              You can pretend all you want that the growth of biomass feedstocks does not remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but it does so.

              You can pretend all you want that it makes no difference whether the carbon that is emitted when burning something came from the atmosphere in the previous five years or a million years ago ...

              ... but it does.

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              by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 10:47:18 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  None of your numerical analysis is valid for (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                caul

                greenhouse gas emission control purposes (and particularly for purposes of EPA/State permitting of new biomass combustors) because you have not demonstrated your point with a common method of analysis reducable to a quantifiable and measurable number....such as the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of heat input...and, in the case of a fuel which must be processed from wood through thermal processing....the amount of heat input required to accomplish that processing which must be added to the heat intensity of the process in question.

                •  The numerical analysis is valid for ... (9+ / 0-)

                  ... the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere purposes. Which, as you have said, is the main issue:

                  The physical processes of the atmosphere as they operate only address gas concentrations.
                  It is a physical fact that the biocoal energy production process results in a lower gas concentration than the mineral coal energy production process, therefore, according to your claim, that is all that matters.

                  Also it should also be obvious ~ and I presume is obvious to anyone else reading ~ is that since nothing in this policy involves the construction of new biomass combustors, talking about EPA permitting of new biomass combustors is a red herring to distract from the fact that you can't understand simple stock/flow relationships.

                  Again, your argument is physically equivalent to claiming that if I dip a cup into a bowl half full of water, then pour the water back in, and repeat it enough times, the bowl will overflow.

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                  by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 11:27:36 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  You said: (0+ / 0-)
                    It is a physical fact that the biocoal energy production process results in a lower gas concentration than the mineral coal energy production process, therefore, according to your claim, that is all that matters.
                    No such physical facts are depicted or displayed in your diary.   You have not addressed the amount of CO2e emissions per unit of heat input or per unit of electricity generated for your biocoal fuel and for various coals.   Such a quantitative demonstration is the minimum basis for making such claims, assuming we're talking about emissions in tons per year (and not the "lower gas concentration" you are talking about).  
                    •  I didn't go into that point in detail in this ... (0+ / 0-)

                      ... essay, since of course the essay was already quite long, and that would seem to be rehashing a point already well understood by most people.

                      Again:

                      Take two large bowls of equal size, each half full of water.

                      In bowl one, repeatedly dip a cup into it, then pour the water into the bowl.

                      In bowl two, repeatedly place a cup under the sink, and pour the water into the bowl.

                      Under your argument, that production and combustion of biomass had identical impact on CO2 gas concentration as production and combustion of mineral coal, both of those bowls will overflow, and at roughly the same time.

                      In reality, the first bowl will not overflow, and the second one will.

                      Now, regarding side issues regarding CO2 emissions during the process of production and transportation, and entirely ignoring, as you constantly do, the fact that the price support system involves burying biochar in the ground, sequestering the carbon, modify the experiment.

                      In bowl one, repeatedly dip a cup into it, and pour it back in. At the same time, pour a teaspoon of water in from the faucet.

                      In bowl two, repeatedly pour a cup of water in from the faucet, plus a teaspoon.

                      Now, indeed, both bowls will overflow, but the second (mineral coal) will overflow much faster and the first (biocoal) will only require the removal of a teaspoon each time (biochar) to avoid increasing its level at all.

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                      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:11:32 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

            •  You can, indeed, confirm this by experiment. (6+ / 0-)

              Take two large bowls, and two cups.

              Put 5 cups of water in each.

              Now, in the first, dip a cup into the bowl, pull it out, then pour the water back into the bowl.

              In the second, take a cup of water from the faucet and pour it into the bowl.

              What happens to the total level of water in the first bowl?

              What happens to the total level of water in the second bowl?

              Your argument is that the total amount of water in both bowls steadily increases.

              Which is absurd.

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              by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 10:51:11 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  He won't (7+ / 0-)

        get it or if he does will not admit it.  I've tried explaining carbon neutral and ancient carbon several times to Lake Superior.  He is against anything that has a smokestack.

        once more into the breach.  A tree takes CO2 out of the atmosphere to produce wood so the carbon from a plant you specifically grow to burn is not causing an increase in CO2.

        "In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism" Marine Corp Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler

        by Kevskos on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:59:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And, further, the physical facts remain the ... (7+ / 0-)

          ... same entirely independently of how the EPA elects to regulate things, so EPA regulations are beside the point as far as evidence about the underlying phyical reality.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:19:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  There isn't any such thing as beneficial (0+ / 0-)

          CO2 emissions from the combustion and use of bio-mass, for purposes of controlling the global warming problem caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

          Starting next year, neither EPA nor state air pollution control authorities will consider that an emission source can get credit for root-related carbon sequestration when the source burns or processes wood or other biomass fuels.

          Nothing the diarist has presented is a serious and quantified discussion that addresses the amount of CO2e emissions per unit of MWH of heat input or per MWH of electrical generation output showing such data for biocoal as compared to either Eastern or Western coal.   Any such consideration addressing bio-coal must address the emissions associated with bio-coal preparation, which the diarist does not address.

          Primary control of land management techniques and biomass harvesting techniques will always lie with the operator collecting the biomass.   This means that the most economical method of production of biomass will be used.   That means that whole tree harvest of mature trees not valued for other wood purposes will be the predominant wood production approach, particularly in areas with nearby public forests lands.

          See, for example, this dust-up:

          http://ecolocalizer.com/...

          •  You keep focusing on ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... the material that is being combusted, and keep taking your idea off the important thing, which is how much CO2 is in the air.

            Even in the carbon-positive case, you are comparing burning a ton of carbon in the form of mineral coal for a net addition of a ton and a few pounds of CO2, to burning a ton of biomass for the net addition of a few points of CO2, with the ton of fuel itself consisting entirely of carbon recycled from the atmosphere.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:46:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  ...Except yes, there is. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, 6412093

      Fossil fuel use takes carbon out of the ground and then spews it into the atmosphere.

      Biofuel use sequesters carbon from the atmosphere (plants convert CO2 into long-chain isomer sugars, which are then burned to produce energy, putting the carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere back into it.

      In the fossil scenario, we just keep putting more and more carbon into the atmosphere.

      In the biofuel scenario, we put just as much carbon into the atmosphere as we removed from it during the prior growing season, so the net effect is that no additional carbon is put into the atmosphere.

      Of course, this assumes the use of efficient short-term biomass stock as opposed to cutting down 70-year-old trees just to burn them, which at this point is, I think, economically infeasible anyway -- good wood's more expensive than charcoal per equivalent unit.

      •  CO2 emissions are NEVER beneficial, even when (0+ / 0-)

        they come from renewable fuels.

        All CO2 emissions from all sources on the planet contribute to our currently increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations....that means all sources...not just fossil fuel sources.

        No reputable air quality agency responsible for controlling greenhouse gas emissions is going to take the approach of this commentor by saying that the solution to greenhouse gas emission problems that lead to increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and global warming will somehow be found in a program of increasing the proportion of carbon dioxide emissions that are generated from biomass combustion.

        •  No claim has been made that CO2 emissions ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee

          ... are beneficial. The claim is that CO2 capture is good, and you are claiming that CO2 capture is meaningless and only emission counts.

          The claim is that the important value is the net emission, because the CO2 in the atmosphere is a stock, and you can only analyze changes in a stock by analyzing both the additions and the subtractions.

          Each ton of CO2 emission is a bad. Each ton of CO2 capture is a good. Therefore a ton of CO2 captured that is then emitted is neither good nor bad for CO2 concentration levels. Hence the phrase, "carbon neutral".

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          by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 03:21:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Well, at a basic level, your assertion is false... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF

          ...As CO2 emissions from animals, decay organisms, and other natural processes are necessary to power the carbon cycle; without them, all photosynthetizing plants would die.

          Also, any approach that offsets fossil CO2 emissions with combustion of biomass is beneficial, as it decreases the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.  

          Man, it's not my fault you fail at math.  Or the carbon cycle.

          •  Note that with the essay no longer on ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... the Community Spotlight, I believe that LakeSuperior will no longer inhabit the diary making the quite nonsensical claim that capture of one ton of carbon following by emission of the same ton of carbon results in a greater concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere than emission of a half ton of fossil carbon in the combustion of the natural gas that he is advocating.

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            by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 11:40:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Legalization of hemp and pot would provide (8+ / 0-)

    superior fiber for paper-making at a lower cost, freeing up pulpwood plantations for bio-coal.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:59:33 PM PDT

  •  Interesting and deep. A question: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Willinois, caul, Leftcandid, RunawayRose

    What is the "other pollutant" profile of bio-coal, besides CO2?

    I mean, another problem with coal is all the other junk (esp. soot) coming out of the chimney.

    Thanks!

    •  Mercury, sulfur and the other ... (9+ / 0-)

      ... pollutants that come from dragging mineral carbon from underground would naturally be largely eliminated.

      As far as soot, that is why one would preferentially shut down the older coal powered plants, and focus any new investment in energy production from biocoal on more efficient Direct Carbon Fuel Cells.

      Ash content of briquetted biocoal is substantially lower than steaming coal, 2%-10% versus 20%-40%, and of course the lack of sulfur and mercury makes the recycling of the ash far less problematic.

      The end-game for biocoal would remain Direct Carbon Fuel Cells ~ but in a Pedal to the Metal policy, an ability to use our worst climate suicide infrastructure in a carbon neutral and much less polluting way without having to wait for more advanced power generation technology to be rolled out is a significant benefit.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:39:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Miscanthus? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    caul, Leftcandid, US Blues, Odysseus

    Any thoughts on miscanthus as a fuel stock? There's research in Illinois for its use as an ethanol crop but I've heard people in the utility industry discuss its use in coal power plants. Apparently they like it because it takes relatively minor plant modifications.
    Big ag might be the only force more powerful than coal in rural IL so the politics would be favorable if ADM can figure out a way get their cut. I haven't seen much info on what the lifecycle impacts would be assuming that its being grown in fields currently used for corn, which is very chemical and carbon intensive.

    It seems like biofules are destined to be a niche fuel source given the limits of growing time and land scarcity.

    •  Though giving ADM their cut ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... may run counter to what you would want to do to have sustainable, renewable production, if unsustainable soil mining production generates more profits to ADM.

      Miscanthis (etc. ... Giganticus, maybe?) is indeed a promising biomass feedstock in areas that were originally perennial grassland. If thinking about extending the policy to Illinois, something like Miscanthis or switchgrass would be the feedstock I'd look at.

      Focusing on marginal hilly and originally forested lands sidesteps the problem that the economics of this depends heavily on low input agriculture, which runs counter to the benefits to ADM/Monsanto. Indeed, a biocoal program based on sustainably grown perrennial prairie feedstocks might act as a wedge between the landowners and ADM/Monsanto, which would be a good thing over the long haul but could make for tough politics up front.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:03:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Biomass vs. Pulp (5+ / 0-)

    You mentioned that we are currently growing trees for lumber and pulp, not biomass.  While technically true, growing trees for biomass would in practice be the same as growing trees for pulp.

    It is true that if you grew trees simply to maximize biomass, you might favor shorter, scrubbier trees over today's pulpwood plantations.  However, you are overlooking the mechanics of logging and forestry.

    Although King Henry VIII may have encouraged the use of the shorter, scrubbier trees achieved through coppicing, the economics and technology of those days was drastically different.  In those days, labor was cheap and transportation was expensive.  Trees were cut by hand, and loaded on carts to transport to their final destination.  Smaller trees were easier to carry by people and horses.  Labor was cheap but infrastructure was expensive.  Coppicing also allowed for multiple harvests in a shorter period of time.

    Today, labor is expensive and infrastructure is cheap.  Foresters grow even-aged stands of 8'' to 12'' trees that require less labor to harvest by machine than multi-aged stands of 2" to 4" trees.  Over their lifetime, an acre of land with the larger trees produces more wood per year than an acre with the younger trees.  If your accessible land is limited (as it was in King Henry's time) it makes sense to forego the increased productivity in favor of more regular harvests.  But, if you are operating in a multi-state biomass market, it is not a problem to harvest every 20 years instead of every 5 years.  

    Further, the idea that we could use bushes and branches for biomass is ludicrous.  You couldn't load and stack a logging truck with such trees.  Your only option would be an onsite chipper, but it has been demonstrated that "whole tree harvest" which removes leaves and small twigs from the land harms soil fertility.

    In short, forests and plantations managed for pulpwood are effectively being managed for biomass.  Foresters have been working for generations to maximize this biomass and, in the US, they have concluded that the best strategy is to plant even-aged stands of loblolly pine (pinus taeda) and let them grow to 8-12 inches before harvesting.  Why plant and not coppice?  Because pines and most other conifers are not capable of resprouting from the root.  

    Although I am extremely supportive of biomass-based solutions to fossil fuels, there is no need to reinvent the wheel regarding growing trees.

    One man gathers what another man spills

    by John Chapman on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:23:19 AM PDT

    •  Its not identical, through ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... indeed, the paper on Sycamore coppicing that I cited is in fact focused on coppicing for pulp rather than coppicing for biomass, and there are problems for the use of coppiced wood for pulp, especially with respect to bark removal, that is not present in harvesting of whole trees.

      Your idea that we cannot transport coppiced wood seems a bit strained ... they were capable of transport coppiced wood in the times of Henry VIII.

      As far as soil fertility, you seem to be forgetting that the primary reason for the higher productivity of the coppiced stand in terms of biomass is that the root system is left intact. Forests and plantations for pulpwood are being managed for biomass for whole tree harvest. The only general approach way to increase productivity is grow the trees as a perennial crop, coppice the trees, and leave the root systems intact between harvest.

      The overall disadvantage compared to a full multiculture in terms of total ecosystem services is the relatively smaller range of tree species that coppice well ~ a large number of deciduous hardwoods send out root shoots when coppiced, so they are not candidate species ~ and given that different trees have a distinct optimal harvest rotation, you generally have to have a single tree species in each contour row.

      But when comparing coppicing to monoculture for pulping, even that is to the advantage of the coppice system, since its straightforward to have alternating contour rows in two difference species.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:38:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  BruceMcF: thanks for sharing this link (4+ / 0-)

    with me.

    Well written and outstanding essay.

    +100 for coppicing. I've been waiting for "Coppice Agroforestry: Perennial Silviculture for the 21st Century" by Dave Jacke and Mark Krawczyk for a few years now. Seems they are on the home stretch after traveling the globe and researching something like 900 species...

    Even in "tree rich" Finland, folks I've spoken to haven't known what coppicing is. They say they have so many trees, why bother! Not the best of attitudes.

    Especially when most of the forestry here are pine monocultures (well, they plant bilberries underneath, but still...)

  •  Hemp for Victory (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Leftcandid, corvo, US Blues, Praxical, 6412093

    Hemp is one of the fastest growing biomass sources. It's easy to grow anywhere, with relatively little water, and is highly bug, mold and weather resistant. Its fiber is some of the most useful natural fiber known.

    It seems like the perfect biomass source to cultivate, other than our existing vegetable waste from agriculture and home consumption.

    Though another fast growing biomass source is sugarcane, which at 8% is the highest solar efficiency land plant (some algae reaches 12%). Since biomass is a cheap, hardy and traditional way of simply capturing solar energy, perhaps sugarcane is the way to go. Maybe extract the sugar for alcohol fuel stock first, then biomass the large remaining waste.

    But though alcohol is a fun product, it's more useful as fuel. While some hemp has a fun byproduct that would be wasted (or transitively return the favor ;).

    Properly managing our agriculture to direct waste into energy would be more like natural processes in ecosystems, where there's no waste - everything's output is something else's input in the food web. Solving our energy problems would probably go hand in hand with solving our water, erosion, food and disease problems.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:05:53 AM PDT

    •  That is a plant that is ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DocGonzo

      ... also grown in large amounts throughout Appalachian counties, but the fact that its grown on marginal, hard to access land does not mean that its optimal growing location if it were legal was marginal, hard to access land.

      Hemp is, of course, a quite useful fiber crop ~ it is as a fiber crop that cultivation was mandatory in some North American British Colonies, since the point of the North American British Colonies were to produce things of use to Great Britain, and one of those things was Naval Stores ~ including tall timbers for masts, and hemp for high quality rope.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:43:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Coal Fuel Cells (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, US Blues, Odysseus, BruceMcF, 6412093

    Instead of burning coal in "internal combustion" (and external exhaust) engines, we can start to strip its energy in fuel cells. They're already reaching 60% efficiency (extracted energy / total energy content), which is far greater than the 30-35% efficiency of a (top performing) coal burning plant. That's like cutting coal in half for the same energy. Combined heat and power tech can increase the efficiency to 85%, coming up on slashing coal to 1/3. And the tech is just getting started. It's theoretically possible it could reach into the 95% range that combined cycle gas turbines presently get.

    The tech also allows direct capture of the waste stream (Greenhouse gases, radioactive elements, no soot), and minimal water. A scalable demo plant already costs only $570K per gigawatt, instead of $billions per gigawatt for nukes - to say nothing of the operating costs, especially while using 1/3 or less of the coal.

    In fact the system is so efficient and closed that it seems possible to actually be the fabled "clean coal". Some of the abundant energy it produces could be redirected into sinking the carbon byproduct into a solid chemical instead of Greenhouse gases. And the solid perhaps stored in the mines from where the coal came - if the geochemistry etc is found to be stable. Perhaps it can even be used as building material, if the toxic (eg. radioactive) parts are withheld - replacing other material (especially Greenhouse villain concrete) that pumps extra gases into the Greenhouse.

    The highly managed chemistry of the fuel cell means we can carefully route the various components to their most useful (or least harmful) destinations. Instead of burning ancient carbon sinks on a huge bonfire under a big kettle like we've been doing since millennia ago, before we used up our quota of filth in the sky.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:22:29 AM PDT

    •  Yes, as I've discussed further above ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DocGonzo, Bronx59

      here. DCFC are the end game, as engineer-poet makes clear. The ability to also use biocoal in conventional thermal coal plants allows for a more rapid ramp-up, but fuel cells combine much greater efficiency and much greater flexibility in terms of fine grained control of how much power you dispatch at a given point in time, so the economics would strongly favor DCFC if we rapidly ramp up Wind and Solar power capacity.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:54:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bio-Coal Is a Battery (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF

        Bio-coal pulls CO2 from the air along with solar energy, though it releases both when burned. It's a battery, a conduit, not really an energy source like plain old coal (which though a conduit too, connects to a distant and lost past of accumulated sunshine).

        The hard part of politicking bio-coal into popularity is that most people will think it's too complicated, when there's so much plain old coal in the ground. While the leverging of vast existing coal processing and generating infrastructure is important to people even more bought into digging up plain old coal instead of making complicated new bio-coal.

        But new tech like fuel cells and sequestration chemistries gives us a chance to switch over the fuel source along with the generating tech. Like the excitement about the "hydrogen economy", which also reroutes our fuels into storage tech rather than energy sources, the high tech's sophistication gives a chance to market the shift in fuel.

        I hope that all the ways we are pursuing Greenhouse reductions pay off in lots of ways to convince different people. Most all of us have to change in lots of ways, and offering something better is the quickest way to get people to go along.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:28:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The ethanol example suggests that ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DocGonzo

          ... the hard part is getting it going, which is why the premise for this whole thing is Democrats in some relevant taking advantage of a political breakthrough to get this started.

          Since we could see the first biocoal produced within two years of a program passed, if the program is started, it will be possible to run on it actually producing "energy in our state, for our state" in the very next election.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:44:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ethanol Makes It Harder (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BruceMcF

            Ethanol for fuel in the US is a well-known debacle. It was a subsidy programme for Upper Midwest farmers that cost more in imported energy than it produced domestically. It was premature to deploy before the bulk of the crops (cellulose) could be made into fuel, and while the ethanol wore out engines quicker.

            That scam makes it politically harder to do it right, now that the reputation is well known.

            I think it's going to take a lot to get over all the accumulated boondoggles on the landscape.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:22:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Is that an issue ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DocGonzo

              ... for keeping the system in place once the ball has started rolling, or is that an issue in getting the ball rolling?

              The focus of this essay is on political sustainability and momentum, it hasn't looked at how to get the premised political breakthrough. If what you are talking about is headwinds to getting it going, you're helping me draft a future essay.

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:00:13 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yep (0+ / 0-)

                I posted some stuff about tech in this diary discussion, including the post about coal fuel cells that started the subthread with you. But in the subthread I've been trying to stick to your diary point about how we actually get people to do what must be done before it's too late, which requires politics.

                So yeah, I'm talking about the problem the ethanol fuels legacy presents in getting really sustainable biofuels rolling. I don't see what political breakthru will get past all that's already in place keeping us unsustainable.

                Except $150 oil barrels, or maybe a natgas bubble bust. By then it'll be too late. In 10 years the only hope will be large scale fusion powering direct atmospheric CO2 cracking, but all the energy already stored in the oceans (along with acidic carbon) will mean it's too late to do anything but slow and lessen the inevitable. Which will likely overwhelm already stressed places with WMD. Too late.

                "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                by DocGonzo on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 09:12:40 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  So, what is the big hurdle created by the ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... ethanol policy? And how broad a shadow does it cast?

                  How does it hurt:
                  (1) Windpower
                  (2) Photovoltaic Solar Power
                  (3) Consumer Thermal Solar Power
                  (4) Electric Rapid Rail
                  (5) Electric light rail and trolley buses
                  (6) Electric bikes & Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

                  (7) Indeed, I don't actually see what the actual problem that it poses for getting the policy in this essay.

                  I can see how it can tangle up developing actually ecologically sustainable, renewable liquid biofuels, but don't really see any major problem that follows from those not being in a position to take a leading role.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 01:02:10 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Side-note to side-note. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    US Blues, BruceMcF, terrypinder

    Another great rail/energy diary, Bruce! Keep'em coming!

    From the diary:

    In 1960 the USDA shut down its chestnut-breeding program and the tree seemed consigned to oblivion.
    Wikipedia:
    Several organizations are attempting to breed blight-resistant chestnut trees. One of these is the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation, which breeds surviving all-American chestnuts, which have shown some native resistance to blight. The Canadian Chestnut Council is an organization attempting to reintroduce the trees in Canada, primarily in Ontario. Another is The American Chestnut Foundation, which is backcrossing blight-resistant Chinese chestnut into American chestnut, to recover the American growth characteristics and genetic makeup, and then finally intercrossing the advanced backcross generations to eliminate genes for susceptibility to blight. The goal is eventually to restore the species to the eastern forests of North America. Backcrossed trees were first planted back into the forest for testing in 2009. In 2005, a hybrid tree with mostly American genes was planted on the lawn of the White House.[4] A tree planted in 2005 in the tree library outside the USDA building is still very healthy seven years later; it contains 98% American chestnut DNA and 2% Chinese chestnut DNA. This tree contains enough Chinese chestnut DNA to resist the blight which is essential for restoring the American chestnut trees into the Northeast.[5] The Northern Nut Growers Association (NNGA) has also been active in pursuing viable hybrids.[6] From 1962 to 1990, Alfred Szego and other members of the NNGA developed hybrids with Chinese varieties which showed limited resistance. Other researchers, such as those at the State University of New York (SUNY), are trying to attack the blight with viruses or are creating trees that are genetically modified (GM) to resist the fungus, and could be the first GM forest trees released in the wild in the United States.
    You can keep reading at the Wiki link for a summary of surviving stands of original American chestnut. These may have some degree of natural blight resistance, and you can buy pure-American seedlings from such survivors here: http://www.chiefrivernursery.com/...

    Join the American Chestnut Foundation and you can receive "potentially" blight-resistant hybrid seeds: http://www.acf.org/...

    This fall there should be a large planting in Georgia of an orchard of blight-resistant hybrids--but there's some worry about root rot, which was a problem even before the blight arrived from Asia: http://www.macon.com/...

    I don't know how the height of the current hybrids compares to the height of the original American chestnut. Likely it's too soon for anyone really to know.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:32:59 AM PDT

    •  Yes ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey

      ... Asian/Sweet Chestnut hybrids exist, so they can be tested for the quality of their nut and if suitable, included in the mix.

      One thing to bear in mind is that while contour rows are more susceptible to all of the intrinsic problems of monoculture, mixed contour rows ~ say, Sycamore for high rotation and Hybrid Sweet Chestnut for annual fall cash crop production before the winter coppicing season ~ would be less susceptible to the risks of monoculture than uniform contour rows.

      Given the reality of climate change, the added robustness that a single fatal pest for one tree species cannot wipe out your entire perennial planting seems well worth reliance on mixed contour planting.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:22:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fast growing poplar? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF

        Some hybrid poplars grow extremely fast and are being used as timber sources. I don't know if they're suitable for coppicing. But even if not, they might be an acceptable component in the mix of species.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:26:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, poplar and willow coppice well ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HeyMikey

          ... and like Sycamore are short rotation coppice trees. Sweet Chesnut is rather an example of a longer rotation coppice tree crop, and wouldn't be in consideration if it weren't for chestnut's annual nut productivity. In most cases willow outperforms poplar, but of course that depends on soil, rainfall, pest burdens etc, and in some cases poplar would outperform.

          I actually wrote incorrectly above ~ you can indeed, mix short rotation coppice tree crops, and doing so can bring the expected benefits in reduced losses to pest damage. So it could indeed be a mix of Sycamore, Willow and Poplar in a contour row harvested every three or four years.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:33:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Poplars Used For Bioremediation Of Polluted Soils (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF, HeyMikey

          There's a substantial body of literature on this.  Keep in mind that trees can grow on degraded soils and they grow on soils that are too rocky to plow.  

          There are plenty of places around the country that are devoted to sheep and cattle because the pastures are studded with solid outcroppings of bedrock.

          Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

          by bernardpliers on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:02:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  So if we turn our insatiable hunger to biocoal (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, 6412093

    how long before we are fueling our power plants with cheap and fast growing biomass from the ever dwindling Amazon rainforest?

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

    by bigtimecynic on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:06:20 AM PDT

    •  That depends upon the political coalition ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... that is built for the policy.

      This is, after all, one strong advantage of government policy pushing it rather than letting "the market" (that is, decisions of large corporations) push it, the opportunity to get a requirement for sustainable production of the biocoal feedstock in at the beginning ...

      ... and then the local producers that begin to produce under that requirement have an incentive to ensure that the requirement remains in place.

      This is similar to the problem of the EU importing biodiesel: no imported any energy source for an country the size of the United State is in reality sustainable, since a system where a country with twice the biocapacity per person as the average country is importing energy can only be duplicated worldwide if we have access to an entire second, unpopulated earth. And we only have the one.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:17:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Can someone explain points 1 and 2 to me? (0+ / 0-)

    The term "export base employment" eludes me. Does this mean that the employment is based on export of the result of the employment?

    Am I correct that the idea of point two is that while the coal is mined locally, what is done with the coal, making steel, for instance, is done elsewhere and the coal mining community gets no share of that added value?

    If I'm right on those two points, can someone restate them in terms that would be easier to explain to folks who don't get "export base employment" and "added value"?

    And if I'm not right, can someone restate them in terms that I might get?

    •  Yes, export base employment ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... is employment based on sales out of the local area.

      Point two is not focused on what is done with the coal, its focused on the fact that most of the money raised by selling the coal immediate leaves the region to the owners of the coal companies, and secondarily to the manufacturers of coal mining equipment, and only a relatively small fraction remains in the local community in the form of wages.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:11:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   Cutting coal off at its knees wrong policy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevskos, Egalitare

    approach.

    We should be fine with coal if it can be delivered and used in a sustainable way.

    It can't.
    It must go away.

    But that's a side effect, not an aim.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:14:06 AM PDT

    •  Since it must go away ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... so long as it retains its political power, it will fight against the policy that we must pursue. So if we are to sustain the Pedal to the Metal Climate policy that over a decade of inaction has made into the only viable remaining approach, we do indeed have to undermine, and if possible destroy, the foundation of their political power.

      We, indeed, need to change the politics to the point that saying "cutting coal off at its knees" does not get some pro-climate change advocates scared by the "oh, no, that will hurt us in Coal Country" reaction.

      "We should be fine with coal if it can be delivered and used in a sustainable way" is entirely beside the point, since it intrinsically cannot be delivered and used in a sustainable way.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:09:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  At some point, we need to care about the country (0+ / 0-)

        and the people who live here.

        Ends justify the means is not caring about or respecting anything important whatsoever.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:16:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Coal is not people living in the country. (0+ / 0-)

          Coal is not the country.

          Cutting coal off at the knees is not disrespecting people. Its disrespecting wealth that motivates the massive damage that Big Coal imposes on the people in this country.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:41:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sigh. (0+ / 0-)

            When you care about nothing, I suppose you are free to do anything.

            LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

            by dinotrac on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:49:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I care about people. I care about my kid, ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... and my grandkid.

              I don't care about the bank balances of the owners of Coal Companies. It is, after all, primarily ill-gotten gains as a result of shifting costs onto the environment and the public while keeping a large share of the benefits to themselves.

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              by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 03:16:32 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  If you care about your kid and your grandkid, you (0+ / 0-)

                might do well to think about laws, principles, freedoms and the role of government.  They will have to live in the world we leave them.

                Trading liberty to make CO2 reduction a little easier doesn't sound any more  appealing than trading liberty for security.

                The incredible upheavals that will be needed will leave us ripe for  authoritarian government as it is, we don't need to get a head start.

                When I think about my kids, I want them to live in a better nation than I do, and a better world, for that matter.  In that world, we are constrained by laws, rights and freedoms.  That means we don't simply say, "I hate coal companies and I'm going after their nasty asses.  Hell, why not send in the National Guard and kill them all. Wait! I've got a better idea! Let's nuke the crap out of 'em.  We don't need West Virginia, anyway."

                That doesn't mean we don't get their nasty asses.
                We have to.

                LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

                by dinotrac on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 05:57:14 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  ASSERTING our liberty is not infringing it. (0+ / 0-)

                  Big Coal is infringing on our liberty. They will all go bankrupt if required to pay for the full cost of the damage that their activity does.

                  No longer permitting them to continue to infringe upon our is no infringement on theirs.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 11:37:42 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Depends on how you do it. When ends justify (0+ / 0-)

                    means, then everything else becomes meaningless.

                    Hell of  a legacy for your kids.

                    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

                    by dinotrac on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 03:10:14 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  That's an entirely generic response. (0+ / 0-)

                      There's a specific means of doing it laid out in the diary. What is it that you object to regarding those means?

                      There is nothing unjust about the means, so they do not require to be "made just" by the ends.

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                      by BruceMcF on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 04:39:39 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

  •  This statement: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093
    Our existing biomass production is not aimed at producing biomass, it is aimed at producing something else. We cut down whole trees in our timber industry because the point of the process is to produce wood and paper pulp. If our aim is to produce biomass, we would do the same as Henry VIII (of the many wives and two surviving daughters, father of Elizabeth I, the first sovereign queen of England), when looking to guarantee sufficient charcoal for England's ironmaking industry. We would produce coppice (Wikipedia machine).
    There is no reason to believe that a large biomass coal industry would not continue to clearcutting existing forests on public lands with whole tree harvest operations.  That is one of the reasons why the Sierra Club is opposed to these forest biomass combustion and biomass fuel proposals.
    •  Yes, reworking your comment from ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... destructive sniping to constructive criticism ...

      ... it is quite appropriate to point out that in order to win the Sierra Club as part of the political coalition, which the supporters of the policy would surely wish to do, there will be a strong incentive to only credit biocoal produced from legitimate waste produces and from cultivated feedstocks grown with sustainable forestry practices.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:05:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't engage in 'destructive sniping' (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        6412093

        What I am engaging in is an effort to defeat attempts to extend the life of existing coal-fired electric generation units by repowering them to either direct wood firing or firing them with charcoal and thermal treated wood.  

        Repowering coal-fired power plants with your charcoal fuel will generate more fuel cycle CO2 emissions per unit of heat input than if you re-powered such coal plants with natural gas.  That is why the Sierra Club and NRDC has recommended repowering of large coal-fired electric utility plants, like the Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant, with natural gas.

        •  That is simply a lie. (0+ / 0-)

          Burning biocoal will generate far less carbon emissions than converting to natural gas.

          You can pretend that recycling CO2 is worse than natural gas, but the fact remains that we have to stop burning all three big fossil fuels, coal, and petroleum and natural gas.

          Indeed if your proposal was followed, and the coal plant was converted to natural gas, a larger percentage drop in net CO2 emissions per Kilowatt Hour would take place in switching it from Natural Gas to Biocoal.

          Advocate for one of the climate suicide fuels all you want, but don't that natural gas advocacy to be accepted without objection when it is based on a flat out lie about the net CO2 impacts.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:39:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  If you are claiming that natural gas combustion (0+ / 0-)

            releases more CO2 emissions than wood combustion  (or from combustion of a charcoal wood derivative) on a heat input basis, then you are making an erroneous claim contrary to accepted air quality science that is backed by U.S. EPA.

            U.S. EPA publishes emission factors for wood and coal combustion.  See respective EPA AP-42 emission factors for the subject fuels at the EPA Clearinghouse of Inventories and Emission Factors.

            Western low sulfur coal, the most common type in use, will release about 390 lbs of carbon dioxide per million BTU heat input.  (See AP-42 - low volatile bituminous coal, table 1.1-20)   at 6250 lbs CO2/ton coal and at 8000 BTU per lb of coal.

            Wood combustion releases 195 lbs of carbon dioxide per million BTU heat input.  See table 1.6-3

            For natural gas combustion, see table 1.4-2 at this link.   EPA says natural gas releases 118 lbs of CO per million BTU heat input at 1020 btu per standard cubic foot of gas.

            The combustion of charcoal will release more carbon dioxide on an emission per unit mass of fuel burned because charcoal will have a much higher percentage of carbon than is contained in unburned wood...and that is even before considering the fuel cycle contribution of the thermal processing and CO2 emissions associated with the charcoal production process.

            If you wish to continue to dispute this, please cite some valid air quality engineering information about CO2 emissions per unit of heat input or per unit of electrical generation rather than tossing out your false charge of dishonesty on my part.

            And no....this is not "sniping"

            •  But you already said that what matters is ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... the total CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Why are you know claiming that the only thing that matters is gross CO2 emissions and not total CO2 in the atmosphere?

              The lie is the claim that burning Natural Gas results in less net CO2 in the atmosphere when its straightforward that that biocoal results in less net CO2 in the atmosphere.

              The gross CO2 emissions, ignoring which CO2 originated in the atmosphere and which originated when your natural gas was taken from the ground, was already taken off the table by you when you said that what matters is the total CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

              Now we have three bowls. The mineral coal bowl (1), the natural gas emissions that you are advocating for (2), and the biocoal bowl (3).

               Start out equal size bowls half full of water.

              (1) Take a cup measure, fill it from the faucet, pour it in the bowl. That is mineral coal.

              (2) Take a half-cup measure, fill it from the faucet, pour it in the bowl. That is the natural gas that you are advocating for.

              (3) Take a cup measure, fill it from the bowl, and pour it in the bowl.

              Going on your own claim that what matters is CO2 in the atmosphere you are claiming that (1) and (3) will overflow first. In reality, (1) will overflow first, (2) will overflow second, and (3) won't overflow at all if 5%-10% of the biocoal is used as biochar rather than burned.

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:07:49 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Your undemonstrated, undocumented assertion: (0+ / 0-)
                The lie is the claim that burning Natural Gas results in less net CO2 in the atmosphere when its straightforward that that biocoal results in less net CO2 in the atmosphere.

                The gross CO2 emissions, ignoring which CO2 originated in the atmosphere and which originated when your natural gas was taken from the ground, was already taken off the table by you when you said that what matters is the total CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

                ....is yet to be numerically characterized and described, anywhere at all in your diary and comments.   There isn't any diclosure or clarity to your claim at all.

                I've given you my emission factors for fuel heat input, and you won't disclose your claimed basis for your undemonstrated assertions.

                •  I'm waiting for you to admit the ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... obvious point that every ton of carbon emitted through biocoal produced from biomass feedstock is a ton of carbon previously removed from the atmosphere, so the steady state impact of that aspect of the use of biocoal is carbon neutral.

                  You've got emission factors, but you've omitted the sequester factors, which are 0 for coal, 0 for natural gas, and greater than the amount of carbon contained in the biocoal produced, for biocoal.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 03:15:01 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  This: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093
    Note that in production of contour-coppice for biocoal feedstock, you do not have to wait until the first coppiced wood is harvested to sell biocoal feedstock, since the clearing of hillside contours for coppiced wood production itself produces bio-coal feedstock. If the land is heavily degraded, this might be brush and scrub rather than valuable timber, but brush and scrub are still useful as biocoal feedstocks.
    ...looks to me like advocacy for forest practices that include hillside clearcuts.  

    You are never going to sell that to the Sierra Club as a suggested forest management technique for either public or private forest lands.

    •  So, your agenda is just sniping? (0+ / 0-)

      You are just looking for things to knock down the idea? What is your interest in avoiding a political threat to Big Coal?

      The "reasonable discussion" approach would be to pose that as a question.

      And the answer to the question would be, no, quite obviously, the clearing of a hillside contour is quite the opposite of hillside clearcutting. Indeed, its not quite clear why someone would decided to read "the clearing of hillside contours" as "hillside clearcuts" except to unfairly smear a proposal.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 12:59:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hey, LakeS' comment is not sniping (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ChuckInReno

        Please explain why clearing every living "brush and scrub" off of a hillside will not cause the same environmental impact as clear-cutting--loss of habitat, and exposing bare soil to stormwater runoff for years, until adult trees have re-established.

        And all the carbon-consuming brushes and scrubs will be gone for awhile, until vegetation is replanted.

        I review lots of wood-burning power plant schemes.  I admit they aren't going to fire charcoal, but bone-dry wood instead.

        They want to emit even more NOx and fine particulate than coal fired power plants, per megawatt.

        And if permitted, they want to run on cheap fuel.  That doesn't mean sustainable forestry.  It means clear-cutting hundreds of acres of existing pine and fir trees.

        And replanting countless acres of a single non-native tree species doesn't recreate very valuable habitat.

        Although Chestnuts would be better than the tree plantations planted now by the pulp mills, which are mostly poplar, how long before they figure out poplar is quicker to grow?

        You'll also have to water those hundreds of thousands of acres of trees.

        I like lots of your ideas but please be aware there are devilish details afoot.

        “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

        by 6412093 on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:21:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  In what way is clearing a contour ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          6412093

          ... "clearing every living brush and scrub from a hillside"?

          A contour of a hillside is a line at the same elevation, not the whole hill. So "clearing a contour" is obviously not clearcutting.

          As far as "if permitted", the next logical step would be to ask "how to prevent it". How to prevent what you describe, which is what will happen if its allowed to be put in place through corporate government, would be to put a program in place first that requires sustainable practices in order to participate in, put in place through elected government.

          Such as a state government, and we are right at the "Biofuels Digest" section of the essay above, where an elected government takes a leading role putting the system together.

          So, yes, we know exactly what a scheme to establish a wood fired power plant will involve, unless the system is designed from the ground up in order to maintain long term sustainability. That's the alternative to either allowing the suicide fuels to be drive a climate catastrophe or else putting a long term sustainable system in place.

          As far as the idea  that you'll have to water hundreds of thousands of acres of trees in Appalachian counties of Ohio and Pennsylvania, I expect you don't grasp the detail that I placed this in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Nobody watered the aboriginal forests of Ohio, when a squirrel could travel from the shores of Lake Erie to the shores of the Ohio without ever having to set foot on the ground.

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          by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 03:09:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for your response (0+ / 0-)

            the additional details help promote understanding of this proposal.

            “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

            by 6412093 on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 08:37:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Awesome! But fundamental error in your figuring.. (0+ / 0-)

    ...I think that there are probably better sources for the feedstock than trees -- as the article said, the bed method can work well with wet green material, so why not use a crop that's more efficient at producing biomass per acre?  AFAIK trees are moderately poor at this.

    •  Output per acre ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... is a deceptive measurement of productivity for biomass, since there are differences in how productive different acres are in growing food crops.

      Also, the figures cited in the comment above are Oven Dried Tons, not wet weight, and 3-6 ODT is quite reasonable productivity compared to the perennial grasses and other prairie perennials that would be appropriate in grassland biomes.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:33:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Coppice Sounds Interesting (3+ / 0-)

    And I would like to see chestnut forests revived.

    Do you have any opinion on the use of biochar for soil remediation?  I know little about the subject, but it sounds like a potentially good use for your program.

    Also, I don't understand your argument about the benefits of batch processing.  Usually, in materials processing, we like to set things up on a continuous basis when possible.

    But great article, I really liked it.

    •  Yes, you get more ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Her Masters Voice

      ... opportunities to automate the process when you set it up on a continuous basis, but the focus here is on the politics, and having the biocoal production as close as possible to the production of the feedstock is a strong political benefit.

      One economic offset to the benefits of continuous processing in large scale facilities is that pushing processing out closer to the production of the feedstock shortens the transport of the harder to transport and harder to store coppice wood, where it can be easily stored, and easily transported to somewhere else that it can be easily stored.

      The other economic benefit is that continuous processing implies continuous production of the exhaust gas, which implies continues co-generation of electricity. Timing production of biocoal with this process so that the co-generated electricity is more valuable implies not using the equipment on an ongoing basis, and the batch processing approach promises a lower capital cost, which is better suited to intermittent use as opposed to continuous use.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:26:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Geography (0+ / 0-)

    Bruce,

    This is a great topic. I do research in this area (biomass torrefaction, hydrothermal carbonization, etc) and am reasonably knowledgeable on the technical aspects of the technology, and reasonably knowledgeable about the economics of producing "biocoal".

    (By the way- I've started calling the carbonized product "BioCarbon" in all research proposals; it seems very catchy in the environment of carbon awareness.)

    I'm still reading through your lengthy post, and will comment more. However, I did want to make a point regarding geography. Actually, two points. (1). The U.S. is already exporting biomass, just like Latvia and other Baltic States. New pellet facilities have been recently built in the Southeast for this purpose. Markets are in Europe, which has a rather progressive carbon policy for energy.

    (2) It sound trite, but coal and biomass don't happen in the same place. This is important, and gets at the underlying politics you alluded to. Coal is good politics in places where there's a lot of coal, such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wyoming. These are not places with great reserves of forestry. There are huge tracts of timber available for commercial use today in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and also in Oregon and Washington. These forests used to provide pulp for pulp and paper mills, but that industry has mostly closed its doors, and moved off shore. Thus, there could be (but isn't yet) a groundswell of political support for new biocoal plants in the southeast and in the northwest. But that won't be from the same workers who've been laid off from a coal mining job.

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    by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 03:34:24 AM PDT

    •  Yes, biocoal travels as well as coal ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... and most pelletized biomass do not travel as well.

      Biocoal is a far more suitable feedstock for Direct Carbon Fuel Cells than pelletized biomass, so the process of producing biocoal, with substantial electricity co-generation at the point of production, and then consuming biocoal in, in the immediate future, coal-fired power plants, is more open to direct conversion of the biocoal energy consumption to DCFC with ultimate efficiencies likely to be in the range of 80%. That is, evidently, well beyond the Carnot Limit on efficiency of coal-fired power plants.

      For the above policy, the only difference between biocoal and biochar is that biocoal is briquetted and biochar is a powder, so powdering rather than briquetting biocoal produces biochar, and crushing biocoal briquettes also produces biochar, which can be used as a soil treatment to substantially improve the health of marginal soils. Therefore, the decision on whether to use biocoal as biochar or as a fuel source does not have to be made until its time to either shop the biochar to the consuming farmer or the biocoal to the consuming power plant. Given that the appropriate role for biomass electric power in a country with the Wind and Solar resource of the United States is to act a dispatchable power source to fill in gaps between daily available supply and demand, this flexibility combined with the long term stability of biocoal in storage is invaluable, since it allows the price floor mechanism to be the open offer price for biocoal for sequestration.

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      by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 11:34:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  DCFC? (0+ / 0-)

        Can you provide a link to the use of biocoal for DCFC? I've never seen this.

        The role of DCFC for dispatchable or baseload power is purely hypothetical, since the technology does not yet exist, in any practical means. If you're talking about solid-oxide fuel cells, then yes, these are commercial. But without a very expensive first step for gasification, I don't think they can be configured to run on solid fuels.

        -5.38, -2.97
        The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

        by ChuckInReno on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 02:59:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of course its under research ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... at an early stage of research, with a range of materials and other design problems to be resolved before it will be ready to enter development, but then DFCF's entering development is not a pre-requisite to the use of biocoal, so under a Pedal to the Metal approach, the one would not wait on the other.

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          by BruceMcF on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 04:35:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Economies of scale (0+ / 0-)

    Coal fueled power plants are, in general, huge. Really, really huge. Let's take for example the Boardman power plant, in Oregon. It's a coal-fired power plant in Boardman Oregon, which you can read about here.

    That plant generates nominally 550 MW, which isn't unusually big. That's enough to power roughly half a million households. (Give or take, lots of variation...) The management of Portland General Electric is very progressive, and they are trying to switch over from coal to torrefied biomass by 2020. Read about it here. (Warning, it's a PDF file.)

    So, why is this done at such a large scale? Why don't they generate power at 100 smaller power plants?

    It all comes down to cost, and specifically, to economies of scale. Any process that is capital intensive, like power generation, gets cheaper when you do it at a large scale. A pump with capacity 1000 gpm is more expensive than a pump with capacity 500 gpm, but it isn't twice as expensive. Capital costs increase (very roughly) in proportion to capacity raised to the 0.6 power. Thus, that larger pump would cost about 52% more than the smaller one. So the overall cost, distributed over the doubled capacity, is actually cheaper. (About 24% cheaper, in this simple example.)

    Batch processes like "flash carbonization" do scale down well, but that isn't very interesting. Because the cost keep going up, as you scale down. Everyone wants carbon-neutral power, but no one wants to triple the cost of power to get there!

    Michael Antal knows well that flash carbonization has a future only if someone devises a way to do it continuously, so that it isn't a flash process. The fact that this is a high pressure process (1 MPa is 150 psi, but I think the actual pressure is, in fact, quite a bit higher than 1 MPa; there may be a typo there) means that developing a continuous process which takes in solid biomass from atmospheric pressure will be very, very challenging. Yes, I have tried!!

    More to come...

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    The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

    by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 04:02:50 AM PDT

    •  coal can travel long distances well (0+ / 0-)

      The coal which is currently fueling the Boardman power plant comes from Wyoming. It is shipped by train. They propose to grow aroundo locally. And they're going to need a lot of it!

      So far, we don't have an economic means to ship biomass, even carbonized biomass, great distances. So that means it will have to be grown "nearby" the power plant. Generally, that means probably within 100 miles.

      OK, local production sounds good. But the key point is that we use electricity everywhere, but we grown lots and lots of biomass only in specific locations.

      I'm as big a fan of biomass as anyone, maybe bigger even than BruceMcF, but we've got to find a way to do it economically, as well as sustainably. Working through these details is really, really, hard. And explains why we don't already have lots of biomass power plants.

      -5.38, -2.97
      The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

      by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 04:12:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Which is the point being made there ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... with respect to scale of the biocoal production (as opposed to consumption) facilities. Coal travels well, and biocoal ships identically to mineral coal.

        And we don't have the economic means to ship biomass great distances.

        The part of the analysis that you are skipping over is the fact that biocoal ships identically to mineral coal. We already have the coal trains moving through these areas. If we locate the biocoal producing facilities at intervals next to the existing rail corridor, then we can also run a biocoal train along that corridor, which would operate like a granger rail line.

        Better to ship the biomass a shorter distance ~ far less than 100miles ~ say, 10miles ~ produce the biocoal, and then ship the biocoal the rest of the way.

        Now, 100mi^2 radius is 10,000mi^2, and some would argue that the 6.4m acres is ample to devote an adequate amount to biomass crops, but it needs to be kept in mind that power plant may not be located in the middle of the best area to grow these biomass crops, and if the center of that area is 80 miles away with a central collection point for shipment, that is more like a 20mi^2 radius, for 400mi^2 or 256,000 acres, and that would require something like 50% coverage even for a relatively small existing coal fired plant.

        The other point with respect to rollout is that biocoal does not require substantial modifications to be burned in the coal fired plant, so that as the policy is being rolled out, it can be burned in combination with mineral coal. This is not an option for many other biomass fuels.

        A 10mi^2 area with 10% of its area under biomass cultivation is 6,400 acres under cultivation, and 40 areas like that would be ample to supply a 1000MW coal power plant at 20% load (whether 20% mix or, in the later stages of a Pedal to the Metal 100% renewable energy mix, operating 20% of the time on biocoal alone).

        Even with only occasional attention, six years does allow some time to consider these details, many of which as you can see in the comments of the previous essay.

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        by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 11:24:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A few comments (0+ / 0-)

          There have been many studies on the costs and logistics of producing very large amounts of biomass. Please see the billion tons study I previously referred. You're right, when you say that biocoal ships as well as mineral coal; the rail car doesn't care what goes in it. The issue is the supply chain, and this is a very big problem. You've described a depot-level process, with centralized torrefaction (or other carbonization process) to produce large amounts of biocoal.

          I'd like to know, how much will it cost to do produce coppice Ohio, and at what quantity per year?

          You've said:

          The other point with respect to rollout is that biocoal does not require substantial modifications to be burned in the coal fired plant, so that as the policy is being rolled out, it can be burned in combination with mineral coal.
          This is just flat wrong. There are many, many studies illustrating the significant challenges required to adapt a coal-fired power plant to biomass or to torrefied biomass. Ash handling is a MAJOR issue. Ash of biocoal is identical to ash of biomass, and causes major problems in furnaces designed to burn coal. Production of NOx is also a problem.

          -5.38, -2.97
          The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

          by ChuckInReno on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 03:09:39 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  How is ash handling a more serious problem (0+ / 0-)

            ... with charcoal with a lower ash content than the coal already being used? I'd like a reference to what the specific problem is with charcoal, either replacing or co-firing coal-fired power plants.

            Indeed, lower ash content would be one of the substantial benefits of biocoal over torrefied biomass, since production in excess of 300°C produces charcoal, not the torrefied biomass created at 230-280°C.

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            by BruceMcF on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 04:52:18 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Two papers come to mind (0+ / 0-)

              There really has been a lot of work in this area. Two very good technical papers that I'd suggest are:

              Title: Biomass-coal co-combustion: opportunity for affordable renewable energy
              by Larry Baxter,
              FUEL  Volume: 84   Issue: 10   Pages: 1295-1302   DOI: 10.1016/j.fuel.2004.09.023   Published: JUL 2005

              and

              Title: The behavior of inorganic material in biomass-fired power boilers: field and laboratory experiences
              Authors: Baxter, LL; Miles, TR; Miles, TR; et al.
              Source: FUEL PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY  Volume: 54   Issue: 1-3   Pages: 47-78   DOI: 10.1016/S0378-3820(97)00060-X   Published: MAR 1998

              Search for "biomass alkali ash deposition", and you'll find enough for full-time study for a year or two.

              The problems are solvable, but, for the time being, expensive. And retrofitting a coal plant takes careful planning.

              -5.38, -2.97
              The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

              by ChuckInReno on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 12:45:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  But is that torrefied wood ... (0+ / 0-)

                ... or is it flash carbonization charcoal? For example, when I read regarding fine fly ash:

                The basic mechanisms concerning aerosol formation in combustion processes are, in general, well known from former research work [5]. Volatile ash forming compounds, which are in the specific case of biomass combustion K, Na, S, Cl as well as easily volatile heavy metals (Zn and Cd), are released from the fuel into the gas phase and subsequently undergo gas phase reactions. ...
                ... clearly that ash formation is much less problematic with flash carbonized charcoal than with torrefied wood, since the bulk of those volatiles are emitted in the exhaust of the flash carbonization reactor.

                We simply cannot look at biomass that has been converted to charcoal at around 500°C in an aerobic process under pressure and biomass that has been converted to a charred and dried torrefied product in an anaerobic process at 230-280°C and treat them as if they are chemically similar.

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                by BruceMcF on Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 02:31:55 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Carbonized biomass (0+ / 0-)

                  There are many ways to produce carbonized biomass, including traditional charcoal process, torrefaction, hydrothermal carbonization, gasification, and even pyrolysis. The char you produce has some commonalities, and some differences. To generalize way too much, the inorganic fraction (i.e., the ash) are pretty similar. These fraction do not oxidize in a boiler, but must be removed. They can volatilize, which really creates havoc on boiler surfaces. No matter how you treat the biomass, it's unlikely that you will leach out the minerals. They stay behind. The organic fractions, on the other hand, are really different in the different chars. They have a different ultimate and proximate analysis. They certainly burn differently. But under most circumstances, the ash they leave behind is similar.

                  -5.38, -2.97
                  The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

                  by ChuckInReno on Thu Oct 03, 2013 at 02:53:48 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  From the reference you gave indirectly ... (0+ / 0-)

                    ... that is, from googling on the search term that you gave, refer to torrefied wood or similar product. And the descriptions I have of charcoal versus torrefied wood is that the ash content is substantially higher in torrefied wood.

                    You say:

                    They can volatilize, which really creates havoc on boiler surfaces.
                    But don't say why they won't volatilize during pyrolysis under pressure. That would seem to be the most likely reason for the reported differences in ash content.

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                    by BruceMcF on Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 01:24:39 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Biochar (0+ / 0-)

                      Obviously, you're very interested in these topics. By me answering your questions, one at a time, you'll never get the level of mastery you're seeking, and I'll run out of patience.

                      These are pretty sophisticated topics. There is a LOT written in the open literature. If you've gotten through two semesters of freshman chemistry, I think you'll be able to comprehend most of it. (If you haven't then that's where I'd suggest you start.) Just keep reading, and you'll learn. There's no shortcut, though- it takes a lot of time, measured in years, not days, to become proficient in these topics.

                      Good luck!

                      -5.38, -2.97
                      The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

                      by ChuckInReno on Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 03:44:28 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  From what I've seen ... (0+ / 0-)

                        ... since, this is an issue of the relative pricing, since on a patent search aimed at torreffied wood, the majority of the ash content can be removed from powdered torrefied wood by mechanical means.

                        The specific problem at hand seems to be less severe than the problems of disposal of coal ash, except that part of the costs of the disposal of coal ash are allowed to be externalized, so this point appears to be pointing out that while existing coal-fired power plants can be powered entirely by cleaner burning biocoal, it will be less labor intensive if it is done with a pre-processing step that removes much of the non carbon ash content.

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                        by BruceMcF on Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 03:49:41 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

  •  Policy is key (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF

    We need to keep pushing our leaders to implement sustainable policy. A key point regarding all fossil fuels, especially including coal, is that many of the environmental costs are externalized. The costs are born by society, rather than by the power producer. The cost of emitting millions of tons of CO2 isn't paid by the power company, or by the rate payer. Why not?

    We need a sensible, long-term policy. One that internalizes these external costs.

    I believe that only a carbon tax (or specifically, a CO2 tax) will allow the creativity of a market economy to respond with an environmentally and economically sustainable solution.

    I'd be willing to bet my lunch money that that sustainable solution will include, at least in part, carbonized biomass.

    -5.38, -2.97
    The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

    by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 04:26:13 AM PDT

  •  Cynical note (0+ / 0-)

    I don't believe our current government, Congress or POTUS, feels any urgency to implement such a carbon tax. It's surely doable, but there will be a LOT of resistance, and not just from the Koch brothers. The policy can be implemented gradually, with long-term goals in place to minimize economic disruptions, but our government doesn't have a long-term focus these days...

    -5.38, -2.97
    The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

    by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 05:21:17 AM PDT

    •  This is not a gradualist, nationwide approach. (0+ / 0-)

      First, there is a reason this is focused on the state rather than national level. The point is to get the ball rolling and build political pressure among traditional Republican interest groups to push it nationwide. That pressure will not exist until its in place, somewhere in the country.

      And second, gradualist approaches aren't fast enough, so we ideally would need to be ready to rapidly exploit any breakthrough we may achieve with policies that can be defended after a mid-term state legislature reverse by the governor's veto pen, and then in four year's time is not likely to be reversed even with a change in party.

      So this is a "democrats win control, have to do something quickly that will have long term benefits" approach for a state government.

      For example, suppose that the Republican State Legislators in Ohio continue to balk on expanded Medicaid coverage, and it goes to a ballot issue in the Fall of 2014, and the unusual mid-term turnout rolls Governor Kasich out of office and creates a slender Democratic majority in the State House of Representatives. This policy would be aimed at swinging a handful of moderate Republican State Senators (because of the way that State Senate districts are often gerrymandered with one gerrymandered Democratic House district and two gerrymandered Republican districts for a Republican lean, moderate Republican State Senators do indeed exist), and getting put in place quickly in the aftermath of that election win.

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      by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 11:00:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cost of production (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF

    Bruce- have you  read the Billion Tons Update? OK, it's really REALLY long, don't read the whole thing.

    It does a great job of estimating cost curves for various biomass feedstocks, under various scenarios. $60 per ton is sort of a magical number. Can coppice be produced on hilly lands in Ohio for less than that amount? How many tons?

    A relatively small 100 MW power plant would require about 2000 ton per DAY. Every day.

    -5.38, -2.97
    The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

    by ChuckInReno on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 05:31:20 AM PDT

    •  The back of the envelope estimate above ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... based on engineer-poets 2006 estimates, is that about 250,000 acres (390mi^2) of short rotation coppice would be required for 20% of the output of a 1000MW plant, which is 390 square miles, so a 90% duty cycle for a 100MW plant would be about 115,000 acres (180sq^2).

      The Southeast Ohio Appalachian Counties contain some of the hilliest terrain, and of course the less hilly parts of that subset of Appalachian counties are offset by the hillier parts of the 13 East Central Ohio and 11 Southern Ohio counties, so I'll just look at those:

      506mi^2 Athens
      422mi^2 Hocking
      429mi^2 Meigs
      455mi^2 Monroe
      417mi^2 Morgan
      399mi^2 Noble
      409mi^2 Perry
      635mi^2  Washington
      3,672mi^2 total

      On the question is whether 5%+ of the land in the Southeast Ohio consists of marginal hilly land, yes, I do think so.

      Now, I'll eventually read the whole thing of the billion tons update, but note that on the Willow section starting on page 109, Willow is being grown as a coppiced biomass crop, so the distinction here is that they are planted and harvested in contour rows on an annual cycle.

      Based on that report, it seems that taking the cogenerated electric power when creating biocoal into account, a support price of $40/ODT for biomass for biochar sequestration and an ecological payment a $5/ton for sustainably grown perennial tree crops on marginal hilly lane is sufficient to get the ball rolling, so I'd start with an ambit claim of $50/ODT and $5/ODT ecological services payment.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 10:51:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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